The Advantages of Virtualizing Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint with VMware

Virtualization represents a major paradigm shift and continues to gain market share. A major concern of Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint Administrators is “will it work?” Since 95% of these application configurations can be virtualized most companies today adopt a “virtualization first” or “virtualize by default” policy. Of course there are those few installations that should not be virtualized.

Will my servers work in a virtualized environment?  Virtualization represents a major paradigm shift and continues to gain market share.  A major concern of Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint Administrators is “will it work?” Since 95% of these application configurations can be virtualized most companies today adopt a “virtualization first” or “virtualize by default” policy. Of course there are those few installations that should not be virtualized.  vSphere supports up to 255GB of memory and up to eight virtual CPUs per virtual machine (VM).  With the advent of multi-core processors, high capacity memory and fast disk subsystem servers, you can leverage the increased power of the hardware by running several VMs on an ESX host.  The overhead to running in a VM is roughly six percent, compared to running the same server on physical hardware.  If you have a complex environment with many servers that you want to virtualize, vCenter CapacityIQ can assist with capacity requirements and optimization of the ESX environment. CapacityIQ has a prediction feature that allows you to determine your future capacity needs so you can plan and budget for future IT infrastructure requirements.  With the current “do more with less” business environment it’s important to leverage the new generation of server hardware to utilize the capacity as efficiently as possible. 

Simplified Recovery.  A complete hardware failure of a server is an Exchange, SQL, or SharePoint Administrator’s worst nightmare.  Anyone that has performed a bare metal restore (especially on new hardware) knows it is difficult, stressful and time consuming.  vSphere allows you to get a backup of a VM’s *.vmdkdisk files, essentially obtaining an image backup of the VM while it’s still running.  The vSphere Hypervisor creates a hardware agnostic environment, so the VMs always “see” the same hardware regardless of the physical hardware that is running on the ESX Host.  This allows you to restore the VM to a different ESX host without having to worry about duplicating the failed physical server hardware.  Instead of reinstalling the OS, reinstalling the application, and restoring the database you can just restore the VM’s *.vmdk files on a different ESX host and start the guest.  Recovery times go from days to hours using this backup strategy. 

Simplified Management.  An average IT administrator typically manages 15 physical servers.  With vSphere, this ratio is at least doubled and often tripled.  How is this possible?  With the tools that are built into vCenter the creation, management, monitoring and patching are greatly simplified.  After base images are created on your ESX host, you can create a new fully patched VM in under 15 minutes!  For larger environments, VMware offers additional products to further automate the virtualization environment.  These products include:

  1.  vCenter Orchestrator.  Create workflows for any VM management process.  Manage the complete VM lifecycle from provisioning, deployment, maintenance and de-provisioning.
  2. vCenter Site Recovery Manager.   Reduce your Disaster Recovery (DR) Time, test and fine-tune your DR plan in a protected segregated environment and simplify the DR process – both failover and failback.
  3. vCenter Lab Manager.  Creates a self-server portal where developers, quality assurance, and test departments can create their own customized test environments.  It’s very useful for recreating different configuration scenarios when trying to track down an issue that is configuration specific. 

Multi-Application Clusters. With Microsoft Clustering, clusters are typically used for a single application:  it’s the “Exchange”, “SQL” or “IIS” Cluster.  When multiple ESX hosts are connected to a Storage Area Network (SAN) the cluster can run multiple applications all on the same cluster.  Since the SAN represents a significant investment in any company’s infrastructure you can leverage this asset by allowing multiple applications to run on the SAN simultaneously rather than dedicating the SAN to single application.  Technologies like Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) allows you to create pools of VMs that can be dynamically load balanced on a resource pool of ESX hosts to ensure your VMs have the best performance based on the amount of computing resources that are available.  Future blog entries will focus on best practices and tips for virtualizing Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint.

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